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Joe Boozell | | January 30, 2019

These are the 5 most well-balanced college basketball teams right now

Andy Katz ranks the top 36 teams in college basketball

Every national champion since Connecticut in 2014 has finished in the top 12 of KenPom's offensive and defensive efficiency rankings. Balance is key when it comes to winning at the highest level.

Here are five teams who are excellent on both ends of the floor.


We know all about the defense. Virginia ranks second on that end and is its usual nasty, snarling self. Duke fared pretty well against the Cavaliers defense; that is the exception to the rule. Going into that Blue Devils game, Virginia hadn't allowed an opponent to crack 60 points in the new year.

But the offense is the reason to be more optimistic about UVA than last year. Virginia ranked 30th then — good, but not great, and we saw its inherent deficiencies against UMBC,

The Hoos rank third in offense this season. De'Andre Hunter's star turn helps, and Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy have improved. The Cavaliers still play at the slowest pace in America, but they squeeze every last drop out of each possession. Virginia rarely turns the ball over (it has the country's third-lowest turnover rate) and makes 39.7 percent of its 3s, which ranks 10th. That's a recipe for a great offense.

Duke bottled Virginia up by switching everything one through five on Saturday, forcing them to isolate more. That's not their game. Then again, most teams don't have the personnel Duke does. At any rate, it's worth seeing if more coaches will try switching against Virginia.

Hunter's health is one reason to like this edition of the Cavaliers more than last year's. But balance is up there.


This one is obvious. Duke ranks fourth in offense and sixth in defense. The Blue Devils are able to score every year, but defense has been an issue in recent seasons. Duke was outside of the top 50 in defensive rating last year until it switched to zone. But this is the Blue Devils' best defensive unit since the 2015 title team.

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It helps to have two ace defenders in Zion Williamson and Tre Jones. Cam Reddish is just a notch below them, and R.J. Barrett is solid on that end. Marques Bolden has made big strides as a rim protector and Javin DeLaurier is a defensive specialist. Scheme is important when it comes to point prevention, but Duke just has better defensive personnel than it's had in years past. It shows.

And any team that has Williamson, Barrett and Reddish is going to score a ton of points. More of Barrett's shots should go to Williamson, but this team should stumble into 80 points every night. Its ceiling is much higher than that.

Michigan State

Michigan State is the hottest team in America right now, and Tom Izzo always seems to do more with less. This team has some nice players. But the Spartans had Jaren Jackson, Miles Bridges and Nick Ward in the same frontcourt last year and struggled. Two of those guys are gone. And Michigan State is thriving anyway.

No. 6 Michigan State takes down Maryland

The Spartans rank fifth in offense and seventh in defense, though the Spartans will be without Joshua Langford for the rest of the season. Ward is an offensive hub, and Michigan State surrounds him with shooters. MSU ranks in the top 25 in 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage and offensive rebounding rate. There's nothing they do at an elite level, but the Spartans are good at everything. They are more than the sum of their parts.

And this is a typical Michigan State defensive squad. An odd quirk, though: it only forces turnovers on 14.5 percent of possessions, which ranks 346th. But the Spartans only allow foes to make 40.1 percent of their 2s, which leads the country. And they're outstanding at cleaning the glass.

The talent level isn't as high, but 2018-19 Michigan State is a more solid national championship contender than the 2017-18 group.

North Carolina

The first three teams were predictable, but this is where it gets interesting. North Carolina is far from perfect. It seems like its top players rarely perform well in the same game. The collective talent is obvious, but something has felt a little "off" all year.

But perhaps the Tar Heels have turned a corner. They rank 11th in offense and 15th in defense after a blowout win over Virginia Tech, which was 15-2 coming into the game. North Carolina has four losses, but they all came to teams in the KenPom top 30.

UNC has athletes at every position and enough shooting to form a lethal offense. The defensive effort has been scattered, but if this latest Nassir Little surge is real, the Tar Heels could be scary on that end.

North Carolina has lacked consistency in 2018-19, but the best version of the Tar Heels is national championship good. We'll see if they can reach that level; UNC is top 15 on both sides of the ball now, but it could wind up in the top 10 by season's end.

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Iowa State

An upset! Iowa State is one of just seven teams with a top 25 offense and defense. Kentucky (21st in offense, 17th in defense) and Tennessee (second in offense, 25th in defense) are the others. The Cyclones are 14th and 22nd respectively. Sure, the Volunteers may have a gripe here. But one unit is clearly better than the other; that's not the idea of this piece. Tennessee is better than Iowa State, but mainly because it's an offensive juggernaut.

Marial Shayok has been the driving force behind Iowa State's transformation. He's a stud defender who is also averaging 19.8 points on 50.7 percent shooting. The Cyclones rarely turn the ball over and have several guards and wings capable of shooting or making plays. Their versatility makes them tough to stop.

And the defensive improvement since last year has been massive. Iowa State ranked 143rd on that end last year. It's not sexy, but avoiding fouls is a huge reason why. Only four teams allow fewer three-throw attempts than the Cyclones, and the Shayok-Lindell Wigginton-Talen Horton-Tucker trio can be nasty. Kansas beat Iowa State on Monday at Phog Allen, but the Cyclones gave them a fight.

This is not a team you want to face in March.

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